John Martin & Michael Gough
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John Martin & Michael Gough

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The best kept secret in music


"Soul Tuggin' Cover Story"

Soul Tuggin': Michael Gough
by Bernard Mitchell Plumlee

“This is me,” Michael Gough said regarding his upcoming CD, Soul Tuggin’. “This project has been tugging at my soul for years.”
Southern Kentucky has waited a long time for Gough to release his first CD, which will be coming out in mid November. Those who have followed his career for over 20 years will be happily surprised. This CD is a compilation of R & B, Motown, Blues and 70’s Rock. Those who have heard Gough’s more recent acoustic shows, which usually have Curtis Burch on dobro, John Martin on guitar and Gough on bass, might be caught off guard by some of the more upbeat/heavier tunes on Soul Tuggin’. “A lot of people are going to be shocked by this CD because they know me as a standard blues player,” Gough said.
“This [CD] is over 20 years in coming,” Gough said. “And after a year recording and four studios cutting the thing, here it is. I got to do it the way I wanted to do it, and not because somebody else said this is what I should do. I produced it, along with Gordie Deems.” The CD is being released under Gough’s own label, HBDYD (How Blue Do You Do?).
Gough is another of the many artists from this area who have refused to compromise their craft. Just as New Grass Revival put their own spin on bluegrass and The Kentucky Headhunters play their own form of country-boogie, Gough refuses to play anything but his interpretation of the blues.
Gough said that Deems is the one that lit the fire under him and saw the project through. Deems plays guitar on every cut on the CD, plus all instruments on, “It Didn’t Work Out This Time.” “If I could play guitar, I’d want to play like him,” Gough said.
Deems and Gough co-wrote three songs on Soul Tuggin’. The first song, “Somebody’s Holding My Own,” was originally written for Robert Cray by Deems. “I’m glad he [Cray] turned it down,” Gough said, “now the song is mine.” The song has a similar texture as “Moan” off of Cray’s Some Rainy Morning CD, but it is more upbeat. Any other similarities are immediately dispelled when the vocals start. Cray would have to get up early in the morning to match Gough’s gutsy Delta moan.
This CD shows that Gough is a musician capable of capturing the emotion of the moment, with the ability to put the listener there too. It also proves that Gough’s song writing is as strong as his performing. The second cut, “Hard On a Man,” shows that he knows how to write lyrics about things that worry the wounded heart. Gough, who originally wrote the song, now shares credit with Deems who recently made some enhancing revisions. The lyrics and melody prove Gough’s writing to be second to none. “You put a spell on me,” is the first line in the song, and it puts a spell on the listener and won’t let ‘em go.
The third song, “Liberty Line,” co-written by Brad Masden, showcases Gough’s talent as a lyricist even more. This song is about the days of the Underground Railroad and the Southern slaves who used it to escape the ruthlessness of their owners. Gough was playing at Indiana’s oldest bar, the Slippery Noodle, when the idea for the lyrics came to him. While reading the club’s brochure during the sound check, Gough discovered that it was once a hideout for blacks waiting for the next train to freedom.
The fiddle in the song conjures up visions of escaping slaves running through the swamps, gasping for breath, fleeing the horror that doggedly pursues them. Chris Carmichael, who was originally scheduled to do the fiddle parts, was on the road during the recording session and had to be replaced. Gough called in Tramp, who plays fiddle for the nationally acclaimed Nashville group Bone Pony. These fiddle parts are unusual and intense, easily mistaken for a guitar getting continuous feed-back, but highly effective in creating an eerie mood in an up-tempo song.
This CD, with its hard edge, is probably a more accurate representation of the intensity that Southern Kentucky has come to expect from Gough. “Even though this is not standard 12-bar, three-chord blues, if you listen to the lyric content to the songs, these are emotions. That’s what blues is based on. You can call the music whatever you want, but the lyrics are all blues,” Gough said.
Gough’s favorite cut, “One Way Out”, will satisfy the hard-core acoustic blues fan. This rendition gets the song’s message across much more clearly than the Allman Brothers’ rocked-up version.
Tramp is the only musician on the CD that has not previously played with the Michael Gough Band. Burch, two-time Grammy winner, is playing dobro on two cuts. Ernie Raymer adds sweet soulful keyboards on four of the tracks. Raymer’s organ sound brings to mind Booker T. and the MG’s and the Commitments. The organ tracks are reminiscent of some old soul favorites like, “Mercy Mercy.”
National Harmonica Champion Ronnie Murphy plays harp on two cuts. The diversity of his playing is outstanding.
Drummer Chris Hardesty appears on three cuts, giving sleepy standards like “Tobacco Road,” a long awaited kick in the rear. Marc Owens plays drums on, “We Danced All Night,” which feels like a soulful cross-breeding of Chuck Berry and Fats Domino.
One of Gough’s reasons for doing the CD is to find an agent that can keep him busy doing what he loves. “I’ve had a day job all this time,” Gough said. “Now I’m ready to play music full time.”
Working a day job all these years may be the reason Gough can reach right into the listener’s soul. He is in touch with the work-a-day world, so he knows the highs and lows of his audience, unlike many of his musical peers.
Gough’s current live band consists of himself on bass, Martin on guitar, Burch on dobro and Tom Cerone on drums. If you have missed Gough in the Bowling Green area recently, it’s because he has been working on a welding job in Rockport, Ill. He has been playing The Boiler Room and Peppers in Owensboro and The Casino Astar in Evansville, Ind. Recently he played festivals in both cities.
Working in one town with your family in another is certainly a labor of love. These self-sacrificing times often bring self-fulfillment. That is exactly what has happened here. Gough’s co-worker and roommate in Owensboro has friends at Wax Works. Wax Works is the distributor for Disc Jockey Records. The roommate was intrigued with Gough’s performance so he called his buddies at Wax Works. One night when Gough was playing O’Charley’s, Wax Works came to check him out. Immediately seeing his potential, they offered to distribute Gough’s CD’s in Evansville, Lexington, Owensboro, and Bowling Green.
Gough says his wife Susan has been a great asset to his career. “She’s stood behind me for 18 years.” His daughter Jasmine, 16, and son Jonathan, 24, have also been sources of support and encouragement. Jasmine’s eyeball will be featured in an unusual close-up on the front of the CD shot by local photographer Hal Smith.
CD release parties will be held Thanksgiving weekend at Peppers and The Boiler Room in Owensboro and in Bowling Green on Dec. 5 at Gary’s.
In March 1996, Gough was the first featured artist in The Amplifier. A line in that article stated, “This is not music from a sheet of paper. This is music from the soul.” This statement is as true now as it was then.
“This is major in my life. It’s got me wide open,” Gough said. “A lot of people might take their CD’s nonchalant, but this is a major stepping stone for me.”

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"John Martin Tours Iraq (feature)"

When the “incoming” siren sounded as John Martin played guitar on stage for U.S. troops last month in Iraq, “it gave stage fright a whole new twist,” he said.

Though nothing hit the base where Martin played with the Michael Scott Band, the experience shook him to the core, he said.

“There’s no part of it that’s fun,” he said of being in Iraq. “But the camaraderie with the band and the connection we made with the soldiers is something you don’t get every day.”

The band performed in Iraq at the request of Gen. Rick Lynch, the 3rd Infantry Division commanding general.

Martin delved into conversations with soldiers when he had the chance.

He said what most surprised him was the dedication of the troops, and how the Iraqis he talked to appreciated them.

“Most of what I got on the news was that the Iraqis hated us for sticking our nose in and we were hated by the whole country,” he said. “It’s not that way.”

In a shop, an old Iraqi man gave members of the band cigarettes, blankets and more.

Martin captured his image on his camera.

He also has pictures of Iraqi soldiers dancing to the Michael Scott Band’s country and rock music.

“Those guys were real serious till we got a hold of them,” Martin said.

Now, he said, he’d go back to Iraq if he got the chance.

“It was real personal for a couple of reasons,” he said. “It gave me an opportunity to do something that was greater than myself. As a musician, that doesn’t happen all the time. We’re not policemen or firefighters or soldiers - we don’t really help people at a particular time.”

The trip was also “kind of an homage to my old man, to glimpse part of an experience he had that I’d never gotten to see,” Martin said of his father, the late Bill Martin, who fought in Vietnam.

John Martin, 38, grew up in Rocky Hill, on a far edge of Warren County, to Bill Martin and Rose Martin, who is now Rose Rutherford of Alvaton.

At 7, he got his first guitar, a plastic Mickey Mouse instrument, and began emulating his guitar-playing dad.

As he grew, as a student at North Warren Elementary and Warren East High School, guitar playing became more and more John Martin’s passion.

“I remember wanting to play all the time,” he said. “Where I grew up there wasn’t a heck of a lot to do other than that and use our imaginations.”

At the time, John Martin, who has a brother, Nick Martin of Warren County, was completely self-taught. He’d listen to records, tapes and radio and try to duplicate what he heard.

In high school, he said, he joined his first band.

He had a harder time staying focused on studies.

Often, near “the bottom” of his class, John Martin said, “I think I barely made it out of high school.”

But he went on to Western Kentucky University at the urging of David Kelsey, a WKU guitar instructor John Martin met in a music store when he was a teenager.

“I wanted to take lessons from him,” Martin said. “He told me if I really wanted to study I should go to college. I went to college with no intention of finishing.”

But soon, John Martin loved the formal study, especially after he learned about classical guitar.

“I got bitten by that bug and couldn’t stop,” he said.

As he practiced proper playing techniques, John Martin felt his hard work pay off.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in music from Western, John Martin went on to earn a master’s degree in performance from Austin Peay State University in Tennessee.

He was the first person in his family to graduate from college.

“I was extremely proud of both of them,” he said of his degrees. But “I was more proud with the master’s degree because I never expected to go to college.”

After earning his master’s, John Martin worked several performing jobs, including on a cruise ship in Europe.

He also cleaned swimming pools, worked in a record store and managed Chambers Guitars in Nashville.

Then, Kelsey, who he said was a great influence and mentor, helped him get a job as a part-time adjunct professor of guitar at Western.

That led to a full-time teaching job as an emergency one semester hire at WKU, before John Martin got his full-time guitar instructor job.

Now, John Martin loves teaching guitar.

“I will teach as long as the university will have me,” he said.

And he’ll perform as long as he is able.

Through the years John Martin has performed with Norm Crosby, Tracy Lawrence, Joe Nichols and other big names.

“I’m busy about every weekend,” he said. “I tour with Michael Scott once in a while, and I play with Michael Gough” around Bowling Green a lot.

He also plays regularly in a jazz duo with WKU Professor of Trumpet and Jazz Studies Marshall Scott, in addition to having his own group, the John Martin Trio.

Recently, with Gough, Martin won a blues contest that earned them the right to compete Jan. 31 in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in the solo/duo category.

In an e-mail to the Daily News, Gough said the event is “a welcomed challenge as we will be competing against some of the best blues musicians in the world.”

But more than that, “win lose or draw,” the trip “will be a rewarding experience” with John Martin along, Gough said.

“He is a good friend, and to be a part of something as large as this should be shared with a good friend,” Gough wrote.

Gough had no shortage of praise for John Martin’s musical ability.

“John and I have been playing together now for almost 14 years,” he wrote. “I have literally watched his playing evolve from a student, to a teacher, to a master of the guitar.”

Michael Scott said John Martin is “a great guy, a great guitar player, a very sensitive guy.

“You could tell when we saw things that were unpleasant over there (in Iraq), it really hit him in the heart,” Michael Scott said.

Michael Scott now hopes people who don’t know about John Martin will seek out his music.

“He’s a great player and great singer,” he said.

John Martin said music has been his life’s passion.

“I was lucky to a great extent that for whatever reason, I was intensely passionate about it,” he said, “and any success I’ve had, however meager, has come from that.”

He said he’d encourage any child who is struggling in school to find a passion and work hard at fine-tuning it.

“If you don’t do well at one thing or two things or a dozen things,” it’s OK, he said. “You don’t have to do well at everything. You can find one thing and do it well.”

John Martin believes perseverance pays off.

“People thought I was insane for trying to make a career in music,” he said. “In a sense, I was, but I kept doing it. I kept on going and found a way to make it work.”

But music isn’t John Martin’s only interest.

In his garage he has a 1970 MG on which he works. In his driveway is a 1985 Jaguar that’s a project.

“If this music thing hadn’t come to be, I’d probably been a mechanic,” he said, “or a pastry chef. I found out a long time ago, living alone, if I was going to eat, I’d better find a way to cook.”

John Martin’s careful to say that working on cars and cooking are just hobbies, though.

“Somebody told me one time, a guitar player buddy ... ‘music is the past, the present and the future,’ ” John Martin said. “I thought, ‘what kind of mumbo jumbo is that?’ But after he explained it, it made a lot more sense to me. Everything I know right now I know from music. All the education and things I know about life have come to me from music ... It’ll carry me through the rest of my life.” - Bowling Green Daily News


Soul Tuggin' CD, released in 1997. Tracks 1 & 3 Somebody's Holdin' My Own & Liberty Line, at

The John Martin Jazz Trio Live At Tedesco's released 2002



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John Martin and Michael Gough have been making music together for over 14 years. During that time they have become a duo force that can hold their own on any stage as an opening or headliner in the Blues/R&B genre. They have played festivals doing just that, opening and as headliners. Albert King, Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Vaughn, Big Bill Morganfield, Bob Margolin, Leon Russell, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Tinsley Ellis, Lonnie Brooks, Long John Hunter, Delbert McClinton, Magic Slim and the Teardrops, John Prine and the Real Deal Blues Band are among a few of the celebrated blues icons that they have shared a bill and stage with. Two time Grammy award winning dobroist Curtis Burch appears in concert with the duo (to trio) and the full band on distinguished dates.

Michael's, 52, musical background started at the age of 8 when his mother taught him 4 basic gospel chords on the piano. He took those chords and taught himself how to play songs from his youth, Edwin Hawkins Singers..O Happy Day, The Temptations..My Girl, Sam Cooke..Stand By Me and many more. As the years progressed, so did his repertoire. At the age of 14, his mom furthered his musical ambitions by purchasing him a set of drums. At 19, he picked up the bass guitar earning his first paying gig after 6 months of teaching himself the basic rock and roll and blues licks, and hasn't looked back. The next 20 years he played in countless all original and cover bands. 1989 marked new beginnings forming his first namesake band, the Michael Gough Group. In 1993 he hired John Martin as a fill in. During that time, John was studying music at WKU.

John Martin earned degrees from Western Kentucky University and Austin Peay State University. He is currently director of guitar and music technology studies at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green Kentucky. He has appeared in Guitar Player magazine, and has made concert appearances with artists such as Al Martino, Norm Crosby, Tinsley Ellis, Clint Holmes and Red Buttons. Along with teaching at Western, he is currently very busy as a freelance musician for several groups including his own jazz trio. John spent Thanksgiving (2007) in Iraq on tour with Michael Scott. He has also toured the Mediterranean Sea and Pacific north coast with Princess Cruise Lines.

John and Michael won the Kentucky Blues Society state competition in the solo/duo category. They will compete at the 24th International Blues Challenge in Memphis on January 31st thru Febuary 2nd, 2008, representing the Kentucky Blues Society--